Famed director of film and opera, Franco Zeffirelli, died yesterday at his home in Rome, Italy. He was 96.
Best known by many for his 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, Zeffirelli was an Oscar-nominated director who made a huge mark on both film and theater.
His Romeo and Juliet, which was a box office hit in the United States, made history as the director was able to get permission to allow his leading lady to be topless on the big screen. That actress was Olivia Hussey, who ironically was not allowed to attend her film’s premiere because, at 15, she was too young to gain entrance due to its controversial rating. She won a Golden Globe for that performance.
Although Zeffirelli earned his Academy Awards nomination for Romeo and Juliet, the commanding Italian truly thrived as a director on stage.
Born in 1923 in Florence as Gian Franco Corsi Zeffirelli, he was the son of a fashion designer and a silk dealer. He graduated from the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze in 1941 and entered the University of Florence only to put his studies on hold after the start of World War II.
He fought as part of the Italian resistance during the war. After a brief return to the University once he finished his command, this head-strong individual left to pursue a career in the theater.
Around that time, he met Luchino Visconti, the famous Italian director and screenwriter. Through his connections with Visconti, Zeffirelli was given the opportunity to design stages and direct, eventually earning a name for himself.
Zeffirelli’s stage productions became world-renowned in the opera and theater arenas. Many of his undertakings are now considered classics, setting the bar for contemporary productions. He has been universally acclaimed for many of his work, including for operas like La Boheme, as well as for classic plays like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, according to IMDb.
Although considered a huge talent, Zeffirelli has also been deemed a controversial figure at various times of his long life.
While openly gay, he was famously conservative and — after a near-death experience in 1969 — he became a devout Roman Catholic who ironically backed the Church’s stance on homosexuality. Later in life, he even served as a senator for the conservative Forza Italia party.
This multi-talented man made headlines last year when Jonathan Schaech, an actor he worked with in the 1990s, accused him of sexual assault, as The Inquisitr reported. Schaech claimed he “had been raped” while filming Zeffirelli’s Sparrow.
Due to his support of the Catholic church, Zeffirelli faced criticisms from LGBT activists. But he also faced criticism from Christian organizations for the depictions of religious figures in his films. The man truly possessed complex personal views, drawing plenty of attention for his conflicting beliefs, per Variety.
No doubt, Franco Zeffirelli made a huge and very meaningful mark on the worlds of both theater and film. He will not be forgotten.